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The only correct ballot for the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame

The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot is overstuffed again. Let’s figure out which 10 players should make it.

Sporting News Archive Photo by Ed Nessen/Sporting News via Getty Images

Welcome to The Year We Get To Stop Yelling About Tim Raines, One Way or Another. It’s taken a long, long time to get here, but that just makes this all feel earned. We will, indeed, get to stop yelling about Tim Raines. He’s in or he’s out. The odds are looking great that he’s in. That leaves only ...

Eighteen qualified candidates for the Hall of Fame?

Dammit. Put a pot of coffee on.

As a Big Hall proponent, the last few years have been like one of those dreams where you want to throw a punch, but you can’t move your arm. So many qualified candidates. So little hope of relieving the logjam. Now we have Vladimir Guerrero, Pudge Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez on the ballot for the first time. All three of them were a huge part of baseball’s story while they were active, and all three are worthy of a first-ballot vote.

That’s what the Hall of Fame is to me, at the risk of repeating myself every year. It’s a museum that tells baseball’s story and helps future generations understand who was responsible for making baseball as great as it was. It’s not a reward for meritorious service. It’s not a prize for good citizenship and longevity. It’s about overall excellence and making people think, “Boy, I’m glad I decided to follow this sport,” over and over again.

Here’s a list of great players who made me happy that I followed baseball while they were active:

  1. Jeff Bagwell
  2. Barry Bonds
  3. Roger Clemens
  4. Vladimir Guerrero
  5. Trevor Hoffman
  6. Jeff Kent
  7. Edgar Martinez
  8. Fred McGriff
  9. Mike Mussina
  10. Jorge Posada
  11. Tim Raines
  12. Manny Ramirez
  13. Ivan Rodriguez
  14. Curt Schilling
  15. Gary Sheffield
  16. Sammy Sosa
  17. Billy Wagner
  18. Larry Walker

If any or all of those players get into the Hall of Fame, it would make sense to me. Not sure if all of them would get my fake vote on this fake ballot, but we don’t need to find out. Not with the silly 10-player limit in place.

What I’m not going to do is pay attention to how long a player has been on the ballot or if they’re in danger of falling off. I’ve overthought this in the past, and it wouldn’t make a lick of difference, even if my ballot were real. Fake vote for the best players and let my fake peers sort the rest out, that’s my policy this year.

So we’ll start at the top.

1. Barry Bonds

2. Roger Clemens

Start with two of the best players I’ll ever, ever watch. They were both dirty, mind you, but they were also historically great before they started with the chemicals, so that even passes a semantical hurdle of some of the fiercest no-roids voters.

The numbers are trending upward for both. I figured they would have to wait for the Golden Legacy Reconsideration Committee of Baseball Excellence in 2046, but there’s a chance that they’ll actually get voted in before falling off the ballot. That’s if the Hall doesn’t rejigger the rules specifically to hose them at the last second.

3. Jeff Bagwell

He did have muscles, and he hit a lot of home runs in the ‘90s and early ‘00s. So you know what that means.

That he worked out and was good at baseball?

Don’t be obtuse with me, pal. Before his final season, Bagwell averaged 151 games played and 32 homers per year, and that’s before taking into account the strike-shortened 1994 and 1995. He was a fine baserunner and defender, with enough speed to steal 30 bases. He spent a lot of his career in the Astrodome, which should have sucked his numbers dry. He thrived.

There is nothing more intimidating than a player who swings hard enough to reverse the rotation of the Earth, while also being blessed with a superhuman eye. Bagwell, along with a couple others on this ballot, were the archetypes. And they were scary as hell.

More than the Jim Rice Criterion, though, Bagwell was incredible. If WAR is your thing, he was one of the five-best first basemen ever. Just, uh, ignore the guy at no. 5.

4. Tim Raines

He’s a gonna get it. Finally. Like Bagwell, Raines was often hurt by his ballpark. More than that, though, he was hurt by his era. Not only was offense down for much of the ‘80s, but Raines was unfairly measured against Rickey Henderson. It would be like The Godfather and Goodfellas coming out in the same year, and everyone using the similarities to argue that Goodfellas was the inferior film. Which it was. That doesn’t mean it’s not on a short list of the most amazing films of all time.

Does this mean that Raines is the Casino to Henderson’s Goodfellas? Or are we getting too deep into the dumb analogies? We’ll never know.

But Raines was incredible. He hurt himself with substance abuse problems, but he was a 70-base-swiping, .330-hitting, 35-double-swatting dynamo, the kind of player pitchers would be afraid of a week before he came to town. He was probably already a Hall of Famer by the time he left Montreal, but he spent the decade after being a steady, solid contributor, just to put his counting numbers over the top.

5. Manny Ramirez

A danged legend. A personality somewhere between The Natural and Being There, which was so much fun. And one of the best hitters any of us will ever see. If you don’t think of Manny Ramirez when thinking about baseball from 1995 through 2010, you weren’t paying attention. Or you were more of a National League guy. Or you just have a lot on your mind, which is totally understandable.

I think of Ramirez, though, and his effortless swing. His defense really was abominable, but you make room for players this special.

Of course, there’s a chance that he was dirty his whole career, unlike Bonds or Clemens, which makes this a tricky case for some. Not to mention that Ramirez was busted twice after baseball made it clear that everyone needed to knock it off. This wasn’t a Mark McGwire situation, where he was openly keeping a tub of soon-to-be-banned power in his locker. This was a player knowing the rules and the recently fashionable fervor attached to those rules and still using.

Still one of the best hitters I’ve ever watched, though, and I’m more comfortable with that than I am with using guesswork to determine how much the performance-enhancing drugs helped. I still don’t know which side of my body the liver is on, and I’m supposed to know how much help Ramirez got from human chorionic gonadotropin?

6. Mike Mussina

While extolling the virtues of these brilliant hitters, let’s take a moment to reflect on how good this guy was. A 3.68 career ERA like Mussina’s doesn’t sound impressive to us today. That’s what Jeremy Hellickson did last year. If he does it for 17 more years, he still isn’t a Hall of Famer.

Ah, but there’s just a weeee bit of context missing from that ERA. Like, all of the context. When Mussina had a 4.81 ERA in 1996, that was good for a 103 ERA+. That is, it was an above-average season. That explains why he won 19 games that year, I guess.

If we use my favorite toy at Baseball-Reference, and set Mussina’s numbers to last season’s run-scoring environment, we get a much different version of his career stats.

That’s a clear Hall of Famer, and that’s before you get to the part where he had to face hitters who were unnatural post-human freaks. I get the reticence of some voters when it comes to PED candidates, I really do. I disagree with it, mostly, but it’s rational. Except then you have to give extra credit to the pitchers who persevered and excelled. Mussina is already plenty qualified based on the stats, but when you remember that he had to face a Wild West of Chemistry, he should be in already.

7. Curt Schilling

Schilling’s numbers don’t need quite the same adjustment as Mussina’s, as they hold up with or without context. His case includes:

  • Seven great seasons, with several good seasons mixed in
  • Power and command that elevated him beyond his peers, contemporary or historical
  • Intimidation
  • Postseason happy fun times
  • Being a part of his generation’s Koufax/Drysdale

That last point isn’t an idle comparison. Drysdale also had about seven or eight great seasons, but somehow it’s advantageous for a candidate to lump all of his injury-marred seasons at the end of a shortened career, rather than sprinkle them evenly throughout a much longer career. But Schilling was just as dominant, just as intimidating.

As disagreeing with him about how the world works? Not a factor. I get that expressing approval for lynching reporters, even as a joke, is repugnant and un-American. But I also get that Steve Carlton thinks 12 Jewish bankers meet in Switzerland and rule the world, and that some of my favorite players might be in favor of some extraordinarily dumb, vindictive things. Are they Hall of Famers because they’re smart enough to shut up about them?

Welcome to the National Baseball Hall of Famous Players Who Might Think “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Is An Outdated Concept, But Know Better Than To Bring Up Politics Or Religion Publicly. Please wipe your shoes before entering.

Nah. Schilling was a dominant force in an era that was stacked against him. His post-career descent into a living YouTube comment is unfortunate, but I’ll mostly remember the splitter.

8. Ivan Rodriguez

The perfect catcher? Just about the perfect catcher. Ten straight All-Star appearances and Gold Gloves, with six straight Silver Sluggers mixed in the middle. He makes it based on advanced metrics and traditional metrics, and if you want to throw the stats out entirely, he makes it on reputation and award-osity.

There’s just one teensy problem.

Is the 37-year-old star known as Pudge on the list of 104 players who tested positive for steroids during baseball's 2003 survey?

"Only God knows," Rodriguez said softly.

That ... wait, actually, no, that’s empirically false. Someone knows. Like you, perhaps. Next time, just say, “ME? NO WAY, PAL” and waltz to 90 percent.

Now, that’s not enough for me to not fake vote for him, but if he has to wait for a second ballot, that’s why.

9. Vladimir Guerrero

Paul Swydan over at FanGraphs wrote an article with a headline that seems ridiculous on the surface:

If You Vote for Vlad, You Have to Vote for Larry Walker

You’re not the boss of who I fake vote for, pal. But then he supported that argument with evidence. Lots of evidence. Overwhelming evidence. Not only was Walker just as good as Guerrero, but he was probably much better.

This might get me kicked off of Sabermetric Island, but my counterargument is that I wanted to watch Guerrero more. Given the choice between a Rockies game or an Expos game back in 1998, I would choose the Expos game every time, specifically for Vlad, even if Walker might have been the better all-around player. Guerrero was a presence, a dynamic, turbulent slugger with the reflexes to square up a pitcher’s pickoff move and pull it down the line for a double. He was huge and imposing.

And, heck, while we’re on the subject of perception, the dude’s name was Vladimir, all consonant-y and sonorous and harsh in just the right ways, and he had a fantastic nickname that explicitly alluded to terror and suffering. Larry’s nickname was “Larry” and in his spare time he enjoyed watching television and spending time with his family.

Does that make me a sucker? It does. But this goes back to the story of baseball, and I regret to inform you that perception does make a difference with how that story is told. I watched Larry Walker for years, and I have a few memories. Dude was good. I would vote for him.

But Vlad. That guy was a recurring nightmare in a corporeal shell, and I mean that in the best possible way. I’ll remember what it was like to watch him do things baseball players should not do. That means something to me, and if 75 percent of my fake peers agree, we must be onto a player or story worth telling for the next century.

10. Gary Sheffield

I’m still not sure if I would vote for Trevor Hoffman or Billy Wagner, and while I was leaning no, now I’m leaning yes. I’ve fake-voted for Sammy Sosa several times and would do so again. I’ve written passionately in favor of Edgar Martinez, who helped define his position. Jeff Kent was one of the finest second basemen of his or any era, and his defense was almost always underrated. Jorge Posada is going to ruin my assertion that Lou Whitaker would be in the Hall if he were a Yankee, and I will be completely perturbed if he falls off the ballot. The greatest years of Fred McGriff’s career were back when I wasn’t paying attention, so it took me a while to come around, but I’m getting there.

The last spot goes to Sheffield, though. Bagwell was menacing. Ramirez was menacing. Guerrero was menacing. Sheffield was the most menacing, at least as a fan of a National League team. It always felt like he was allowed to bat twice every trip through the order. The damned bat waggle still wakes me up at night. Waggle waggle. Waggle waggle.

So he gets the feels component that Guerrero does, and he has the stats, too. From 1995 through 2005, Sheffield hit .304/.419/.553, which was good for a 155 OPS+. Most of that time was in Pro Player Stadium or Dodger Stadium, and the line tells you exactly what kind of player he was. Smart. Measured. Powerful. Impossible to pitch to.

His defense was, uh, raw. Perhaps terrible. Occasionally apocalyptic. But over all those players up there, over Hoffman or Wagner or Sosa or Kent or Posada or McGriff, Sheffield puts me in the moment when I think about him. He reminds me of specific moments or games — I’ll never forget him representing the go-ahead run in one of the best games I’ve ever attended, working a nine-pitch at-bat and shortening my life — more than the other guys. Hoffman’s hoffmaninity was special, but there was nothing quite like Sheffield’s sheffielditude. So on a crowded ballot, I’ll go with one of history’s greatest sluggers. If 75 percent of my fake peers agree with me, we’ll know the fake system works.

This is the only correct ballot, so I hope you agree with all this and stop being difficult. It would appear as if I’m easily intimidated by sluggers. Guilty as charged. I do enjoy a dinger or five. Because this is the only correct ballot, I guess that means you do, too?

Settled. Congratulations to these 10 players on fake-making the Hall of Fame. Hopefully they all make the real one at some point.